Let IIMs be free of government stranglehold

World-class institutions are not built by politicians, but by those working within them. The proposed IIM Bill not only curbs the freedom of the 13 IIMs, but also dilutes their quality

June 26, 2015 01:32 am | Updated 08:14 am IST

NEED FOR AUTONOMY: “The IIMs have built a national and international brand. This is to be applauded as it was done without governmental management.” Picture shows students of the IIM Bangalore at the 37th annual convocation.

NEED FOR AUTONOMY: “The IIMs have built a national and international brand. This is to be applauded as it was done without governmental management.” Picture shows students of the IIM Bangalore at the 37th annual convocation.

Change is most dangerous when it is brought forth not because it is necessary but because someone simply has the power to initiate it and wishes to exercise this power. This seems to be the reason for the Human Resource Development Ministry’s proposal for an >Indian Institutes of Management Bill, 2015 .

It is important to note that world-class institutions are not built based on the decisions of politicians, but by those within the institution — those who spend a lifetime in their respective fields and make important decisions concerning the functioning of the institution. This is especially because political parties and agendas come and go, and therefore their temporary presence should never be allowed to influence academic decisions and excellence.

The IIM Bill, in its present form, intends to take away that decision-making power from the hands of the very people who created these great institutions through decades of hard work.

Provisions of draft Bill In the present draft bill, a majority of clauses cited indicate that the government wants to take over the autonomy of the IIMs and establish its own hegemony. Here are some instances: Clause 17 (2) says, “The Director shall be appointed by the Central Government with the approval of the Visitor, on such terms and conditions of service as may be prescribed.” Clause 21 (1) and (2) say, “Without prejudice to the foregoing provisions of this Act, the Institute shall, for the efficient administration of this Act, be bound by such directions on questions of policy, as the Central Government may give in writing to it from time to time; the decision of the Central Government whether a question is one of policy or not, shall be final.” Clause 30 of Chapter V says a co-ordination forum will be established and goes on specify who the members of the same will be. Clause 31 elaborates on this. Clauses 35 and 36 in Chapter V1, among others, also indicate the government’s overreach.

The government dictates that the IIM administrations be completely dependent on it, right from matters of appointing the director to matters of admissions; fees charged by the institutes; and tenure, remunerations and conditions of employment. It not only makes the board of IIM (Ahmedabad) a vestigial organ, but also takes away the freedom of the institution’s faculty. In fact, the Bill attacks the freedom of these great institutions rather than giving them the freedom to excel.

The IIMs have a great reputation simply because of this: they have been given the freedom to experiment and excel. This is why many well-known academics join the institutes. With freedom comes responsibility, and nobody knows this better than the faculty at the IIMs. There are several instances where people have left their cushy, high-salaried positions in the corporate world to join IIMs at a much lower remuneration. As a result, these institutes have been able to produce some of the brightest minds in the country and in the world. IIM alumni have gone on to become leaders in various fields. It is for these reasons that I would request the government not to take away the one quality that makes the IIMs the most sought-after — their freedom.

Even in terms of the legacy of a government, one is far more likely to be remembered for reducing restrictions and governmental interference than for increasing them.

Diluting the brand The IIMs have built a national and international brand. That is to be applauded and supported, especially because this was done without governmental management. The institutes have functioned without interference from the government in the past, and can continue to do so in the future. Does the government desire to take control over the best institutions in India and turn them into bureaucratic non-entities? Do they want institutes from other countries to overtake these institutes in terms of excellence? What is the need to gain control over an institute that is already performing well?

As someone who has spent a lifetime with some of the best educational institutions in the world, I would urge the government to abandon these hostile takeovers. The MHRD’s time could be better spent in other ways. The IIMs should be able to retain and enhance their autonomy, and in this endeavour they could assist Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s objectives of making India a great nation.

Some of the clauses mentioned above may not be new ones. But if they are poor clauses that do not enhance academic excellence, it does not matter if they are new or old. I hope that the government thinks of ways of increasing autonomy rather than reducing it.

Trust is crucial in any field, in any exercise. Experts in every field have respectable credentials, a lifetime of relevant experiences. If their views are not taken into consideration and their area of expertise is suddenly taken over by the government, this indicates an attempt to undermine their decision-making abilities.

The question to be asked is: Is the government really interested in supporting and enhancing world-class institutions or does it want to engage in one more bureaucratic exercise? For the sake of India and its students, for the sake of corporate India, and for the sake of jobs and academic excellence, I plead with the government to abandon these initiatives.

(Beheruz Nariman Sethna is a ‘Distinguished Alumnus’ of IIT-Bombay and IIM-Ahmedabad. He is the first person of Indian origin to become president of a University in the U.S. — a position he held for 19 years.)

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